A woman pulls over hastily in her respectable car and stops a yam hawker – a girl of about thirteen years old. Two girls I presume to be the woman’s daughter – the younger being about the hawker’s age – lounge on the backseat. The hawker, considering the looming dusk and the many tubers still unsold, quickly puts her wares down from her head for the obviously impatient woman to examine, (the woman wasn’t properly parked). Two tubers skid off the tray in mid-air and breaks on hitting the ground, one breakaway part rolls off with determination until it winds up inside a drain.
The woman asks the price of four tubers grouped together.
800, the girl replied. Her eyes assess her loss with the broken tubers (one of which is particularly big and would have been of significant market value), her tense hands gathering the damaged yams.
No o! This one is 500. The woman stretches her neck from her seat and raises her nose as though she could sniff the tubers from her seatbelt restrain.
You can take them for 700, ma. The hawker’s eyes plead. The woman’s presumed daughters look on. One of them loses interest and busies herself with a smartphone.
- The woman starts her car as she says this, an indication of a final offer.
Please ma, yam is now expensive, help me buy, ma. The hawker curtsies, her face contorts in a desperate plea. The car begins to slither away.
Okay ma, come and take them for 650. The woman hesitates, then shakes her head and drives off.
A passerby who heard the concluding part of the negotiation reprimands the hawker’s poor marketing. She should have accepted the 600. Can’t she see it’ll be dark soon and she’ll have to carry all those tubers back home unsold?
The car cruises off into a bend and I begin to wonder what kind of world it is where a woman in a respectable car who gives off an aura of one who would drive to a shopping mall and shop away for obviously overpriced goods would refuse to patronize a juvenile yam hawker because of 50 Naira for yams she obviously wants, especially when she knows the hawker damaged her goods and is certain of a loss, and, perhaps, a reprimand from an furious mother, while trying to satisfy her.
I walk past the drain later where the mischievous yam piece lies in tranquillity. I assure myself I would have treated the hawker differently.
But then, we humans are forged in the same template, and I must consider my history of perpetually overestimating my own capacity for empathy.